"No one can escape justice!" When I tell people that I’ve been reading a lot of Judge Dredd comics, the first thing most of them say is, “Oh yeah, wasn’t there that movie with Stallone in it?” Well, yes, there was. I was at it on opening weekend, in fact. There was also a much better (and funnier and more violent) Dredd flick that came out in 2012.
But I’m not here to talk about moving pictures: Judge Dredd is all about pictures and words on paper. The character of Judge Joseph Dredd first appeared in the British magazine 2000 AD in 1977, and his adventures have been running there ever since. I did not know about that magazine when I was growing up, but I did know about Dredd (and respected the badge) thanks to Anthrax’s “I am the Law” and the occasional special-issue appearances with Batman. Only recently have I gone back to the source and started reading some of the original British comics, and I am very glad that I did.
Set in a chaotic, post-apocalyptic 22nd century U.S. city, Mega City One, Dredd is one of the Judges, authorized to detain and deliver judgement on any law-breaker. The sentence is often death. This would be a grim premise, were it not for the fact that the comics are completely, gloriously over the top. People get infected by radiated mushrooms and start breaking out in spores. Robots have egos and sing songs about themselves. Weird skeletal psychopaths talk with hillbilly accents and make various diabolical poisons (or “pizens”). It’s fantastic! The satire is often thick. And episodes are incredibly short, only about 6 pages long: they were originally serialized in 2000 AD over many issues. Collections of these episodes are the perfect quick-bite reading, for when you don’t have much time or much of an attention span.
There have been some recent Dredd comics by American writers and artists, too: an ongoing series by Duane Swierczynski which kind of turns it into a sci-fi police procedural (albeit with plenty of cheeky humor and misplaced body parts), and a great miniseries called Mega City Two: City of Courts by Portlanders Douglas Wolk and Ulises Farinas. In Mega City Two, Dredd takes an assignment on the west coast, a place much brighter and glammy than MC1. Rest assured, he will still find a way to deliver justice, even if he is stuck with a gun that only shoots “friendly bullets.” Because, after all, he is the law.